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Anthony Berkeley

Brook and Sarah explore the life and writing of Golden Age author Anthony Berkeley, founder of the Detection Club and author of several novels under different pen names.


The Layton Court Mystery (1925) Anthony Berkeley (originally published as by “?”)

The Winteringham Mystery (1927) Anthony Berkeley (originally published as by A. Monmouth Platts)

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) Anthony Berkeley

Murder in the Basement (1932) Anthony Berkeley

The Red House Mystery (1922) A.A. Milne

The Hunting Party (2018) Lucy Foley

The Guest List (2020) Lucy Foley

The Wychford Poisoning Case (1926) Anthony Berkeley (originally published as “by the author of The Layton Court Mystery)

Magpie Murders (2016) Anthony Horowitz

The Golden Age of Murder (2015) Martin Edwards

Before the Fact (1932) Anthony Berkeley (originally published as by Francis Iles)

Suspicion (1941 film) Alfred Hitchcock

Malice Aforethought (1931) Anthony Berkeley (originally published as by Francis Iles)

Trial and Error (1937) Anthony Berkeley

Flight from Destiny (1941 film) Vincent Sherman

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook.
BrookHi, Sarah. Today we’re going to talk about another Golden Age mystery author.
SarahI’m really looking forward to speaking about Anthony Berkeley but before we do that, let’s just chat briefly about our writing project that we are putting out into the world as we write. How do you feel like it’s going Brook?
BrookI think it’s going great. I think it’s a lot of fun and it’s really pushing me. Like this is something really new to me. I usually polish things up a lot before even I let my friends, or my family read. So, it’s a great getting out of my comfort zone but it’s so much fun writing with you, Sarah.
SarahI agree it’s definitely uncomfortable but I’m enjoying the process so far.
BrookYeah, so if you would like to read this mystery as we write it, all the information on how to join The Clued in Cartel is on our website and we would love to have you.
SarahOkay so let’s talk about Anthony Berkeley. I will do a little introduction. The eldest of three children, Anthony Berkeley Cox was born in 1893 in Watford, which is now considered part of greater London.
SarahEducation was important in the Berkeley Cox family. His father was a physician and inventor and his mother had studied at university despite degrees not being granted to women at the time. She also ran a school and published a novel of her own before marrying. Berkeley studied classics at Oxford, though his siblings outshone him, with his sister earning a doctorate in music and his brother becoming a mathematician. He entered the First World War as an officer the effects of a gas attack would impact his health for the rest of his life. After his discharge from the military in 1919, he had a series of jobs including working as a journalist, in property management, and for the government. He wrote comic sketches—some with his brother—and wrote and performed in amateur theater productions. In 1925 his first novel The Layton Court Mystery was published. Though a question mark, rather than his name, appeared on the cover. This book was the first of several appearances of his writer sleuth Roger Sheringham. In 1926 the Winteringham Mystery was published under the name A. Monmouth Platts and serialized in the Daily Mirror. The paper offered a prize for solving it, which was claimed by Archie Christie, husband of Agatha. His 1929 novel the Poison Chocolates Case featured a gathering of crime lovers who each put forward their own solution to a mystery. The likely germ for this book was his fascination with true crime, an interest he shared with many of his contemporaries. In the late 1920s, Berkeley had begun organizing periodic dinners with other authors to discuss to discuss crime writing and true crime. These dinners ultimately became more formal and in 1930 Berkeley organized the first official Detection Club dinner.
SarahBarkley married Margaret Farar in 1917 while he was on leave from the war. The marriage lasted until 1931 and the two remained friendly after their divorce. After that he developed a bit of a reputation for being associated with married women including his sister-in-law and his agent’s wife who in 1932 married Berkeley. I imagine this was quite scandalous at the time. Throughout his career, Berkeley published under multiple pen names A.B. Cox, Francis Iles, A. Monmouth Platts, question mark, and his own name. As Iles, he reviewed books for several publications in the latter part of his life. Berkeley died in 1971 in London. So, Brook which of his books did you have a chance to read?
BrookSo this week I read Murder in the Basement and I loved it. I was shocked by how modern it felt. I know that seems like kind of a ah strange thing to say. What about you?
SarahSo I read a few of his books. I also read Murder in the Basement, which was published in 1932. He was very much pioneer in the kind of the Golden Age authors.
SarahHis first book came out in 1925 and that was still pretty early on in Agatha Christie’s career. I think Dorothy L Sayers was publishing around the same time. A.A. Milne, who was a member of the Detection Club I think his book The Red House Mystery ah that came out in the early 1920s as well. So, he was really riding that kind of wave of detective fiction that the Golden Age is is really known for. Murder in the Basement was different in that the identity of the body was unknown and that was ah a big part of the mystery was trying to figure out who this was. So that was really interesting and a different take on ah take on a lot of the novels of the time.
BrookYeah, and that actually introduced me to a mystery term I hadn’t heard of before. Martin Edwards does the introduction for that book, at least in the audio version that I listened to. And he called that a “who was done in” story. Which is not a term you know we talk about “whodunnits” or “howdunnits” but um, and then he referenced the fact that it was very cutting edge and it’s you know, still being carried out. Lucy Foley writes these type of stories The Hunting Party and The Guest List are both “who was done in” stories. So um I just I enjoyed learning a new mystery term.
SarahI really enjoy Lucy Foley’s books and I think it’s really interesting that the kind of origin of that style of book is a hundred years ago.
BrookExactly and you know then that is just a component. Obviously, there’s other than layers of the story that have to come through, because once they discover who the body is then they um then they still had to find the killer and bring them to justice so it creates a really I think rich story instead of there just being one question. He’s done a really great job of having like different components and and mysteries within the mystery.
Sarah I read The Poisoned Chocolate Case and so that was published in 1929 and I believe it was published under his name but it features Sheringham, his his sleuth who is an author, which, you know we’ve talked about before that kind of author sleuth.
BrookYes, we love that.
SarahAnd and I liked the way that this mystery was set up. So in this in this book the set of facts is shared um to the members of the Crime Circle who you know you can definitely see some parallels between that and the Detection Club.
SarahAnd then the book is each of the members of the group putting forward their solution to the mystery. So some of them have gone off and done some investigating and some have just you know, kind of looked at the evidence that was presented and and um, put forward their solution. And then two additional solutions have been put forward for this book. One by Christianna Brand and the second by Martin Edwards. He offered his solution as part of um, the edition that was recently released by the British Library has been releasing and so that’s what you would have heard in the version of Murder in the Basement that you listened to um I also listened to the Wychford Poisoning Case which was in 1926. That one was also published with a question mark on the cover. And I think that one was ah his take at offering a solution to a real mystery like ah a real case of poisoning that that had happened. So he very much kind of drew from actual cases in developing his stories.
BrookYeah, that is so interesting. So, in reference to The Poisoned Chocolates Case and you know the setup as you said it’s very similar to a Detection Club. And so you can kind of imagine what maybe their meetings were like when they’re talking about some of these true crime cases that are in the newspaper. But that took me back to Murder in the Basement where Sheringham is telling the police detective that it’s crazy to think that an author just comes up with characters that every character is based on real people. So, then I want to know in um, in that book like who’s who in the crime circle as far as. Who they relate to from the Detection Club? I think that would be really fun to draw those lines. Another point about that idea that Sheringham has, he’s written about this school and then basically character sketches of all these people that are there and this is helping them determine you know who was done in. Were you reminded Sarah of Magpie Murders? A large portion of that story is told as reading the manuscript that this author wrote. And he plugged in characters from his real life and that is what helped them solve the case. And I feel like it’s a hearkening back to this story from from Berkeley.
SarahYeah, you’re right. I did think of that and definitely the book within a book that you know we’ve we’ve talked about that as well in the past and I thought “I wonder if that is the first example of that”. I’d have to do a little bit of digging to to confirm that. The other thing The Poisoned Chocolates Case reminded me of is the set of short stories that introduced Miss Marple, right? Because it was the same kind of setup. It’s people talking about crimes and solving them and I’m now believing that this is this was a pretty common pastime for people to you know, have these they’re more than book clubs, right? It’s a real-life version of a true time forum.
BrookYes, absolutely. And perhaps we’ll have to keep our eye on this as we you know delve into more and more of the Golden Age authors. Maybe kind of a device for them to introduce their sleuths. We’ve seen it now with Miss Marple and we’ve seen Sheringham. We’ll have to watch and see if you know these friends who are all authors kind of do this more than more than once.
SarahSo a while ago, I think it was um, either last summer or the summer before this was on my summer reading list was The Winteringham Mystery. And that was I think the only book that he published under A. Monmouth Platts. And that felt a little bit different. It was a a closed circle, at a grand house mystery that we often associate with Golden Age mysteries. But I don’t think he wrote a lot of those.
BrookHe seemed to be very, um, you know and this is mentioned in the Martin Edwards introduction as well. Ah, wanting to do different things. You know he didn’t have a formula or a structure he followed. I also found it interesting that he would sort of use that pen name. Much much like a contemporary author might for that type of story. Um, you know it was noted that his Francis Iles pen name tended to be more of like his suspense thrillers and um, then he wrote some more traditional type mysteries under Anthony Berkeley or or a question mark apparently. But you know that was a little bit ahead of his time too. I think to say “ok I’m going to you do this kind of story under this name build that brand” and have you know some some delineation there.
SarahYeah I I think you’re totally right I think he really recognized the importance of meeting readers’ expectations that are set by a particular author. Um I think the other reason or one of the other reasons that he used different pen names is I really get the sense that he was very protective of his privacy. And he was also I think quite insecure. And so I think having a pen name allowed him to both protect his anonymity. Ah, but also protect himself from any potential. Ah, you know if if ah, A.B. Cox is criticized for one of his works then it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s him. And so yeah I think he was protecting himself. Something that I read in one of Martin Edwards’ books is that Berkeley inserted himself into many of his characters with either some of their backgrounds or their families or their opinions or personality traits mirroring him. And perhaps having that distance between him and the pen name helped also to preserve some of that anonymity.
BrookI think it’s very understandable and we probably find that in you know, a lot of authors of why they do that? Um I think that it’s very understandable and especially for someone who is insecure. I think that he also um had these health issues that were going on. And I don’t know how that impacted his you know his mental health and his psychology. But yeah, it’s a useful tool a pen name.
SarahOh, definitely. So you ah talked about here or you mentioned his his health issues. I get the sense that in the latter part of his life, his health did impact his quality of life and also impacted his mood. There were a few references that I saw to him being a bit of a a bit of a grump, but that he was quite supportive of up-and-coming authors, and he would really try to help them in their in their careers.
BrookSo in your research, Sarah did you come across anything about his writing habits or how he liked to create his stories?
SarahYou know, Brook I didn’t find anything about that. And I think that speaks to just how private of a person he was. I did see that he refused to have his photo on the dust jackets of his books. That’s how little recognition he wanted. So, it actually is surprising to me that he used his name at all. And I don’t know actually while he was alive whether he whether he used his name or whether that is something that’s happened since he died. But all of the names that he used had some connection to him.
SarahSo, his mother’s maiden name was Iles and that’s where the Francis Iles name comes from as well as he had an ancestor whose name was Francis Iles, who apparently was a smuggler. The property that he grew up on was called Monmouth Platts, which is where that name came from. You can kind of see where all of his names came from. They all meant something to him. But of course readers wouldn’t have had access to the internet and be able to dig that information up really easily.
BrookNo, it was much easier to keep your pen name private or secret then. Interesting. And what about adaptations.
SarahSo there haven’t been many adaptations of his work. His Francis Iles novels as you said they were more psychological thrillers so Before the Fact which was published in 1932 um that was made into a film in 1941 by Alfred Hitchcock but it was renamed Suspicion. And I know you’re a Hitchcock fan so you may have seen that. And it was ah there was another version that was done in 1989 Malice Aforethought, which was published in 1931 also under the Iles name, was serialized by the BBC in 1979 and on ITV in 2005. And those are both British networks. And I did a search to see if any of the streaming services that I have had either of those available and neither… or… I couldn’t find them, so I I don’t know, they don’t seem to be very easy to track down.
BrookThat’s too bad.
SarahYeah and it is because I think I would um I I wouldn’t mind seeing some of these you know? I can imagine The Poisoned Chocolates Case I can imagine that working well on screen right? We’ve seen movies where it’s you know, different points of view or different um interpretations of of a case so that one to me seems like it would be an easy one to adapt. And on Wikipedia there were a couple of others that were listed that had been turned into films. Um, so Trial and Error which was published in 1937 was turned into a film called Flight from Destiny. It was apparently adapted into a television miniseries by BBC in 1958. So really, not much of his work has been adapted.
BrookYeah that’s too bad. I actually have seen Hitchcock’s Suspicion but it’s been a really long time and so that is going to be one of my summertime projects is to read Before the Fact and then rewatch Suspicion. I’m looking forward to that. I I really really enjoyed Berkeley’s style of of writing as I said at the beginning, I feel like it felt really modern. And I think part of that comes through with his journalism background like he has a very concise and matter of fact way of writing. So I’m really looking forward to reading more.
BrookWell thank you so much, Sarah. This has been a great conversation about one of the other Golden Age authors and um I’m sure we’ll be doing more.
SarahYeah, I mean there’s a lot for us to to dig into. So yeah until next time, Brook.
BrookExactly and thank you everyone for joining us today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.